King's College London

Research portal

School racial composition and lifetime non-medical use of prescription painkillers: Evidence from the national longitudinal study of adolescent to adult health

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Amy Ehntholt, Mauricio Avendano, Roman Pabayo, Lisa F. Berkman, Ichiro Kawachi

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-109
Number of pages7
JournalHealth & place
Early online date6 Aug 2018
Accepted/In press12 Jul 2018
E-pub ahead of print6 Aug 2018
PublishedSep 2018


King's Authors


OBJECTIVE: To investigate the possible effects of middle and high school racial composition on later reporting of lifetime non-medical use of prescription painkillers (NMUPP) in young adulthood, and to explore whether there is evidence of variability by individual race/ethnicity in such effects.

METHODS: Using data from Wave 1 (1994/5) of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), we categorized the sample's 52 middle schools and 80 high schools as majority (>50%) non-Hispanic white, majority non-Hispanic black, or neither. We used two-level hierarchical modeling to explore associations between individual- and school-level race at Wave 1 and lifetime prescription painkiller misuse reported at Wave 4. We included a cross-level interaction between individual race and school racial composition to assess variability in school-level associations by race.

RESULTS: Overall crude prevalence of lifetime NMUPP in majority white schools (17.9%) was over three times that of prevalence in majority black schools (4.8%), and also higher than prevalence in schools neither predominantly black nor predominantly white (12.4%). Lifetime misuse among blacks in majority white schools was more prevalent (5.2%) than among blacks in black schools (2.8%), as was misuse among whites in white schools (19.3%) compared to their white peers in black schools (15.7%). Two-level random intercept Poisson regression results suggest that attendance in a majority black secondary school lowered a participant's risk of lifetime NMUPP (compared to attending a majority white school: RR=0.66, p = 0.03). Compared to blacks in black schools, blacks in white schools had twice the risk of prescription painkiller misuse (p = 0.004) over a decade later, and whites in white schools had 5.5 times the risk (p = 0.01). The risk ratio comparing whites in black schools to whites in white schools was not significant (RR: 1.30; p = 0.37).

CONCLUSIONS: We found evidence of an effect of school racial composition on the risk of misusing prescription painkillers over a decade later, over and above individual race, with higher risk of misuse reported among participants who had attended white schools. Black participants who had attended predominantly white schools were, on average, twice as likely to report lifetime misuse of prescription painkillers compared to blacks who had attended black schools.

Download statistics

No data available

View graph of relations

© 2020 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454